Techniques in Grief Counselling
Below are examples of some useful techniques in grief counselling that stem from a range of different theoretical frames.
The underlying assumption with this approach is that our thoughts influence our feelings; particularly the secret self scripts that are constant in our minds. It is not unusual for the grieving person to experience some irrational self scripts, (e.g. “I’m all alone” or “no one will ever love me again”) as they get overwhelmed by the reality of the loss. The role of the counsellor is to identify these thoughts of the client, challenge them for accuracy and help the client replace those thoughts with more functional and realistic ones. This technique is particularly useful in challenging feelings of false guilt.
Writing can be used to help the survivor express their feelings and thoughts more freely. Such free expression is a crucial gesture in grief recovery. For example, having the client write a letter to the deceased can help them take care of “unfinished business” as they get an opportunity to express things that were left unsaid before the loss. If and when appropriate, the counsellor can encourage the client to write extensive and honest letters to promote an authentic and free expression of thoughts and feelings.
Role playing is particularly effective in helping the client adjust to the new environment after the loss of a loved one by helping them build the skills and recognise their ability to make new adjustments and move on with life as normal. The counsellor can be involved in role playing either as a facilitator or to model possible new behaviours for the client.
The counsellor may choose to use “tough” words (e.g. “your son is dead” rather than “you lost your son”) to encourage a greater revelation of the reality of the loss, thus inducing relevant feelings to help the client experience and express painful emotions that need to be felt after a loss. This should only be applied after a healthy rapport and trust has developed between the client and the counsellor or else it may be viewed as insensitive by the client. As such, timing is an important factor when using this technique. The counsellor can also encourage the survivor to speak of the deceased in past tense. This serves as a constant reminder that the loss has occurred thus promoting a real acknowledgement and growing acceptance of the loss.
The role of the memory book is to get family and significant others together to reminisce the life of the deceased. The book can include the stories about significant events and memorabilia such as photographs, poems, drawings, etc. This creates an opportunity for the family and significant others to grieve together and offer support to one another. This has the potential to ease the painful emotions associated with the loss. The purpose is to encourage the fullest expression of feelings and thoughts regarding the loss.